With no pre-season games, no fans attending practise and the media severely limited in what they can report — it’s pretty hard to analyse anything that’s going on during Seattle’s training camp. That said, I’m going to offer a few thoughts on some topics as the season draws closer.
Let’s slow the hype on Alton Robinson
There’s been a lot of buzz about how well Robinson has performed. Pete Carroll has highlighted him and the local media have been suggesting he’s been a standout performer so far. This is all good news given the state of Seattle’s D-line.
However, there’s an important point to remember here. We’re only two years removed from Rasheem Green having a really productive pre-season. On debut against the Colts he finished with 1.5 sacks, three hurries and seven tackles. Carroll proudly stated after the game:
“He’s come to us with real good style, he’s got real good hands. I was just fired up it showed up in the game.”
Yet Green’s first season in the league was a flop. He had only one sack all year.
Frank Clark equally had a fantastic pre-season as a rookie. Against Oakland he forced a sack/fumble that was recovered for a touchdown.
Clark battling Lockett for preseason MVP honors.
— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) September 4, 2015
Again though, when the season started, Clark struggled to make an impact. That wasn’t entirely his fault. He was playing behind Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril for a start, on a team that had just lost the Super Bowl. Even so — his great summer didn’t translate to an impactful rookie campaign where he finished with just three sacks.
None of this means Robinson can’t have a great rookie season but it’s worth noting that young Seattle pass rushers have a tendency to flash in camp and then go through a steep learning curve when the real games start.
Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs look the part
There’s something to be said about the visual nature of a team. I watched a bit of ‘Rain City Redemption’ last night. The Seahawks looked as physical as they played. Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Browner, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Breno Giacomini. There was a spine of the team that just embodied physicality and toughness.
That has to have an impact. I think there’s something to be said for the ‘get off the bus’ look to a team. You want an opponent to be wary of facing you. In this most physically and mentally demanding of games, any slight edge is crucial.
It has to go along with talent, of course. The LOB era Seahawks had plenty of that too. They had a nice blend overall.
During this reset the Seahawks haven’t really had enough of those physical players. They’ve been the ones pushed around by teams at times. Look at the way the Rams have handled them or the defeats to Baltimore and New Orleans last year. They didn’t have enough of a physical edge.
You can still levy that at the 2020 Seahawks. In particular on both lines — there’s a distinct chance several offensive and defensive linemen will have their lunch money stolen this season.
However, credit where credits due, Adams and Diggs look like a terrific, formidable force in the secondary. They look different to the other players on the roster. They embody the tough attitude the Seahawks have been missing for too long. Teams will not enjoy trying to attack Seattle’s secondary as a consequence of their presence. With Marquise Blair also known for his hitting, the defense could finally return to the punishing unit Carroll craves.
That said — and this will be the dynamic with this team until the problem is solved — you’ll never get the full benefit of this if opposing quarterbacks have all day in the pocket and you can’t create pressure up front.
Can Ethan Pocic be Justin Britt II?
Pocic was a surprise pick in 2017 for many reasons. He was a pure center at LSU and looked like a center too. Everything about his playing style suited the position. He wasn’t an amazing athlete or a power blocker. He was technically sound, contained opponents off the snap and held his ground.
When he was picked I remember thinking they were planning for life without Justin Britt — who was coming to the end of his contract. Yet later in the year Britt signed a whopping extension. Suddenly the Pocic pick made little sense. They tried him at right tackle to start his first camp, quickly moved him to guard and there he stayed.
His career has never really taken off. He’s struggled with strength and he simply didn’t fit at guard or tackle.
So why has it taken until year four to finally shift him back to center?
It was weird listening to Carroll explain that he’d ‘always thought it was his best position’ the other day. Really? So why not, you know, actually play him there? What was the thought process with the pick? Select a guy you felt could be versatile, leave him struggling without a set position and then reveal you saw him as a center all along?
Pocic must wonder what life would’ve been like had he landed somewhere else and actually been given a proper shot at center earlier in his career.
Hopefully, as was the case with Britt, this late shift will be the catalyst to a career revival. Britt looked like he was going to be cut and was given a chance to compete at center almost as a last act. Yet he excelled, won the job and was a pillar of consistency for a long time until injury ended his spell in Seattle.
If Pocic doesn’t perform well, however, this could become a big problem for the Seahawks. B.J. Finney was signed in the off-season presumably with the intention of winning this job. Yet, as was the case throughout his time in Pittsburgh, he seems to be settling into a backup role. It’s not a glowing review of the situation that he’s not separated from Pocic or indeed even ahead of him.
Solidity at center is key. The Seahawks obviously have the potential to simply re-sign Britt when he’s healthy again if needed. They’ll hope that isn’t necessary.
Greg Olsen could be a god send
The Seahawks have always looked a better team with a tight end who can consistently make plays. They don’t need a player you need to feed the ball to (Jimmy Graham). The offense calls for a playmaker and safety net though. Zach Miller played that role beautifully as has Will Dissly when healthy.
Dissly’s injuries the last two years set back the offense. They lost a limb and had to make do afterwards. He’s back and hopefully won’t suffer another gut-wrenching injury in 2020. Having Olsen as a partner in crime, however, gives the Seahawks the kind of security they’ve never had before.
Olsen’s experience, savviness and blossoming connection with Russell Wilson (per reports) could be a big plus. You need a lot of weapons on offense in the modern NFL. Olsen might be in the twilight of his career but he’s always been the consummate pro.
He’s not going to be Travis Kelce or George Kittle but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to make some third downs, score a few touchdowns, provide some leadership and allow this offense to function to the best of its abilities.
The Carlos Hyde signing is also important
I think everyone feels sympathy with Chris Carson currently. He’s dealing with a family issue and hasn’t been practising much during training camp as a consequence.
That said, he’s a player coming off a fairly serious injury and the missed time might not be entirely conducive with him hitting the ground running this season. Carson has had an injury plagued career too.
The wheels fell off Seattle’s offense when Carson and Rashaad Penny both got hurt at the end of last season, leading to the dramatic return of Marshawn Lynch. It seems plausible even at this early stage that Carson might not be 100% immediately or could get hurt as he tries to reach 100%.
Hyde is an above average running back who can carry the load for a team. To have him as insurance on the roster increasingly looks like a wise move. I’m not sure what the odds are on him finishing as Seattle’s leading rusher in 2020 but it’s probably worth five bucks.
The Seahawks still need another receiver
This is a brutal pre-season for young players and many are going to need to hope they get another shot next season to show what they can do. That said, teams like the Seahawks — with ambitions of being a contender — are going to equally have to accept the situation.
They can’t really afford to ‘find out’ what the likes of Freddie Swain and Cody Thompson can do. David Moore can be inconsistent but at least he’s familiar with the quarterback, the offense and he’s made plays in the league.
They’ve brought in Phillip Dorsett and talked up his speed and potential and there’s also a chance John Ursua gets a bigger opportunity in 2020. However, it feels like the Seahawks need to add another proven, reliable receiver.
One injury to Tyler Lockett or D.K. Metcalf and you’re basically relying far too much on younger players and your tight ends. They need a third wheel, someone who can realistically fill the void if one of the top two go out.
That’s why I think they were linked with Antonio Brown until confirmation of his suspension (and they might return to that weeks down the line). It’s why I think they’d still like to add Josh Gordon if that’s possible. Bob Condotta brought up the name of Paul Richardson today as another option.
Don’t be surprised if they add Richardson just to give themselves that little bit more security going into the season.
Damien Lewis is getting a lot of praise
If you missed it in April, here’s my interview with Lewis:
I found him to be humble, passionate for the game and full of the grit the Seahawks seek. I thought he was a top-50 prospect in the draft and the Seahawks got a steal getting him in round three. He was superb for LSU and terrific at the Senior Bowl too.
He’s earned rave reviews so far from his team mates and that’s a big plus. The Seahawks need some long term pieces on their O-line. Bruce Irvin singled him out for praise during his press conference yesterday.
He’ll have a big test against Atlanta’s D-line in his first game — but it’s going to be fun to see how his career develops in Seattle.
The Jordyn Brooks pick still feels like a head scratcher
Like Adams and Diggs, there’s something about Brooks in the way of intensity, thick frame and attitude. I can see why NFL teams were attracted to him as a high-ish pick for that alone.
Yet as we sit here today with virtually zero chance of him starting as a rookie, I can’t help but wonder what the thought process was? Did they really draft a WILL linebacker of the future in round one?
K.J. Wright is going to start. They’ve pretty much spelled that out. Bruce Irvin is the SAM. So barring injuries, this is basically going to be a redshirt season for Brooks.
Is the WILL spot really that important?
When you look at the alternatives in the draft, the picture becomes even murkier. They said they liked Darrell Taylor so much they almost took him in round one. Yet by not doing so, they then had to trade up in round two. All for the benefit of acquiring a WILL of the future.
There was a supreme collection of talented running backs available. That would’ve saved money because they wouldn’t need Carlos Hyde and they’d have greater flexibility in terms of what to do regarding Chris Carson’s contract next year.
There were a cluster of good offensive lineman available. Imagine pairing Damien Lewis with either the brilliantly physical Robert Hunt or his LSU team mate Lloyd Cushenberry. Or they could’ve moved up a handful of spots to get Cesar Ruiz.
If Brooks goes on to become a fantastic player in the future nobody will question the pick. That kind of has to happen though — otherwise what possible justification is there for taking a WILL of the future when there are so many long term question marks at other positions on the roster?
And let’s not forget — they’re already paying Wright and Bobby Wagner nearly $25m combined this year. In the 2019 draft, they also traded up for Cody Barton.
Second and third tier players need to step up
The Seahawks clearly have good players but for too long now the second and third tier guys haven’t added anything. There’s been a distinct lack of development and progress year-in, year-out.
A winning team always needs a handful of people to step forward. In 2013 for example, the Seahawks had Malcolm Smith, Clinton McDonald, Jermaine Kearse and Byron Maxwell.
They’ve found players who contributed as rookies — D.K. Metcalf and Will Dissly for example. So it’s not that they can’t find talent that is ready to play. Yet they’ve not managed to polish the raw diamonds and find guys that can take a big step and elevate their performance after some seasoning.
They desperately need that in 2020 especially if they don’t do anything else to the D-line. The problem is they’re practically relying on the likes of Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier and Marquise Blair. They have to perform or else. They are no longer second or third tier hopefuls. They’re starters. Slow progress isn’t an option.
They still need to sign Jadeveon Clowney
Look — you might find this repetitive. It is repetitive. Yet it’s simply a fact that the Seahawks run the serious risk of wasting a lot of potential on this roster by trotting out a wretched D-line.
They have a quarterback in his prime, they’ve invested massive amounts into their linebackers and safeties. They just traded their life savings away in an attempt to win now. Not next year — right now.
And yet it’s a massive contradiction for all of these things to be true and the Seahawks D-line to remain in the state it’s in.
Clowney won’t fix an entire line by himself. He’s an impact player though capable of providing an X-factor up front. Those types matter come playoff time or come NFC West time. We saw that against San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Everyone has been entrenched for months. Clowney won’t take anything less than the figure he has in his mind. The Seahawks and the rest of the NFL aren’t going up to that number.
Yet it’s nearly September now and all parties have exhausted this saga to the maximum. Seattle needs Clowney more than he probably needs a one-year contract to play this season. If you’re going to roll the dice on a safety in a big trade it’s time to roll the dice on a contract for the one dynamic D-liner available on the market.
Clay Matthews isn’t going to cut it I’m afraid.
The Seahawks with Clowney have a shot. The Seahawks without Clowney look like a team who will make the playoffs as a wildcard, lose in the first couple of rounds and we’ll point the finger at one of the worst pass rushing units in the league and have the same off-season conversation we’ve had for the last two years.
If it takes a 2-3 year deal that carries some risk to get this done, wouldn’t you rather roll that dice than take a punt on the current D-line not costing you a season?
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